Trying My Wings

This year, I’ve decided, perhaps a little late, that I’m going to push myself as a pianist. I want to know just how far my mind can go, how high my hands can carry me.

This started last year, when a friend told me to try the second Prokofiev sonata. “Too hard,” I said, even though I felt a deep connection with the composer in general and this piece in particular.

“You can play it,” she said, but I shook my head and dug in my heels, convinced I couldn’t.

Well, on New Year’s Day, I decided to start trying. I always tell my students, “How do you know you can’t if you haven’t even tried yet?!”

I vowed to learn one page of my Braille score every day. It’s about fifty or so pages long, so, giving myself a little leeway for “unforeseen circumstances,” I figured I’d be done learning notes by March 1.

I actually finished memorizing notes February 17. I tried for this year’s Seattle International Piano Competition and the Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition by making a CD in March. The first movement of the Prokofiev was part of that disc.

About a month ago, my husband “reminded” me that, if I wanted to play at the elite international level, I had to practice like I meant it and, more important, think like I belonged there.

Again, I had the insight that I hadn’t really found out just what I was capable of. I was settling for “good enough” when I should have been aiming for “best humanly possible”.

So, I’ve been working on my physical practice habits, but perhaps more importantly, my mindset. Ninety percent of our perception of reality comes from what we tell ourselves in our own minds. So, if I had difficulties in practice with particular passages, I would often start berating myself and telling myself I had no business trying because I obviously wasn’t going to get any better.

Well, who says?!

Now, when I catch myself thinking this way, I say to that part of my mind that loves to remind me of doubts and past discouragements, “OK, that’s your opinion, but it’s not helping with this current situation, so I’m going to choose to ignore it.”

Many times, this is enough to shift my focus just enough so I can make progress and achieve whatever goal I’ve set myself.

As for the competitions, I didn’t advance beyond the preliminaries of either one. I could, and sometimes do, get very discouraged because I don’t play note-perfect. It’s like submitting a resume to a huge corporation. If there are typos, misspellings, grammar errors, or even a stray hair on your cover letter, your done.

So, I’m trying to make it possible for me, as a blind person, to play much closer to note-perfect. I don’t want to be recognized as “pretty god for a blind person”. I want to be accepted as a total musician, with the technique and expressiveness that merit that.

The technique is hard, especially, in my case, making leaps on the keyboard accurately, every time, without fail. But it’s the technique that makes the expressiveness possible.

I can honestly say I am a much better pianist today than I was in late March when my disc for competitions was made. And I’ll be even better next month, next season, next year.

Good thing, too, because I’m going to try those competitions again, and keep trying until I succeed.

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